I ran from Alcina rehearsal to the small club in the eighteenth district. T. was only in town for one night. We had so many great nights when we were all together in New York, but our ties go back to college in Arizona. As T. blisters through his horn, I am in touch with both of those lives at once. New York always feels close, Arizona much less so.
"Did you guys hear about L.?"T. likes to play Old Home Week with us, which is funny because he is kind of famous. We love it, the updates on gigs and breakups and kids.
We hadn't heard about L. "He's in jail."
Third floor Coke machine, L holding court as usual with a brace of other saxophone players. I cut through the cigarette haze with my 35 cents, looking for my mid-morning caffeine. They are laughing insiders, I'm embarrassed and shy surrounded by these older guys. L is drawing a robot-man in RayBans, holding a soprano saxophone, mouth open in horror: the senior recital poster of the silent long-haired person who is not yet MtMn.
At home later, I begin a Google search that ends far too quickly; the name and the city instantly yield pages of gut-freezing print and video documentation. The internet spreads the small story over endless sites, a tornado blowing a house across an entire county: Former band teacher sentenced to fifteen years.
The music in my day is all Alcina, keeping our house covers in form. This is athletic music that one has to train regularly. The hours of fine-tuning pitch, coloratura, rhythm, and text are difficult and rewarding. A long line of music geek friendships extends behind this day of Handel. I remember rehearsing with L. A great musician, personally strange, like so many of the people I have known. Like me.
I have not thought about him in so long. We both stayed in college for an age. We were never friends, but we saw each other nearly every day for eight years. We played music together on multiple occasions. He has a wife and children of his own. A tornado, a house blown apart.
Hey, I say to my sister, I think I know your student band teacher. She clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth, the universal junior high expression of dismissal.
Mr. L? He's weird. I don't like band anyway.
"You know the sabbatical semester when L. taught the studio?" T. drinks water these days, like me, graying hair around his strong dark face. "He made the most crazy-ass technical exercises for me, broken sixths all up and down the horn and shit like that. It was all because he couldn't stand my sound, but I tell you...he pushed me. I do all kinds of stuff on the horn because of him." T laughed, short and dry, and we all looked at each other.
Alcina is a sorceress that turns her lovers into beasts. A courageous wife rescues her enchanted husband from Alcina. There is the magic of a certain kind of love, and it is an illusion. The hero, Ruggiero, has a hard time understanding what is illusion and what is real.
We walk home through the streets of Vienna and talk about how he always seemed like a big kid. Later, the stooped shoulders under the prison uniform, the small angry eyes. I search them far too long for evidence of someone I never knew. And yet his constant presence through our Arizona days brings them back more sharply in my mind than many more familiar triggers.
L. and I are buying Buster Bars at the DQ across the street from the music school. We try to eat them before they melt as we walk down Mill Avenue to his new studio. He and a friend are renting teaching space and doing instrument repair. I'm accompanying a small recital of his students, and he is also playing. MtMn and I will soon leave for Germany for my Fulbright year. I imagine that these days of study, of learning, of trying things out, will somehow never end. We finish our ice cream and rehearse his piece, a piece I heard MtMn play in my first week of college, a piece I accompanied T. on as he forced himself through his required classical recital. Tomorrow we will play it for L's students, for the kids who want to play as well as he does.
I want to weep, for him, for his family, for his kids, and above all for the four other children. In fifteen years, they will be as old as we were when we played music, went to the DQ, drew recital posters, extended our childlike pursuits toward adulthood and wondered what would happen.
Ruggiero looks around the stage and sings,
Green meadows, pleasant groves, you will lose your beauty.
You will see loveliness changed to horror.